35th ultra-marathon race Spartathlon gets underway

Athens: The 35th edition of the annual ultra-marathon race Spartathlon from Athens to Sparta, one of the most gruelling long distance courses worldwide, started at the foot of the Acropolis hill here on Friday morning.

About 400 athletes from 52 countries and regions set off at 7 a.m. local time following the footsteps of ancient Greek soldier Pheidippides in the 246-kilometre race to the city of Sparta in southern Greece, reports Xinhua news agency.

Spartathlon, like the marathon race, is inspired by the feat of Pheidippides, according to the International Association “SPARTATHLON” which organises the event each year.

In 490 BC, ahead of the battle of Marathon against the Persian forces, according to historians, the soldier-messenger was sent from Athens to Sparta to request support, making the journey on foot non-stop within two days.

In 1982 British RAF Wing Commander John Foden, an ultra-marathon runner, with four friends decided to test whether ancient Greek historian Herodotus’ reference to the Pheidippides deed was correct. Could the distance be covered within 36 hours?

They did it and thousands of runners of various ages and professions from across the world followed their footsteps ever since, testing the limits of human stamina and mental strength.

The target is to reach within the 36-hour time limit the statue of ancient Spartan King Leonidas in the centre of Sparta to be awarded an olive wreath and a sip of water from the nearby Evrotas river.

Only about a third of the participants are able to complete Spartathlon each year, according to statistics.

Spartathlon runs over rough tracks and muddy paths under the rain, crosses vineyards and olive groves, climbs steep hillsides and takes the runners on the 1,200 metre ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio in the dead of night.

The mountain is swept by strong winds with temperatures dropping as low as 4 degrees celsius.

Greek veteran runner Yannis Kouros, who won the first Spartathlon, still holds the record time of 20 hours, 25 minutes.

In the 35th Spartathlon being held under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Tourism, several well known athletes are taking part. Among them is Italian Marco Bonfiglio, Joao Oliveira from Portugal, Czech runner Brunner Radek and Hungarian Lubics Szilvia.

Greek runner Nikos Sideridis, who won the 34th Spartathlon, is also participating.